Drones

Countering CCP Drones Act – DRONELIFE

C.Stadler/Bwag, CC BY-SA 4.0 

The Countering CCP Drones Act, introduced by NY Representative Elise Stefanik, could effectively limit the use of Chinese-manufactured drones in the United States: and may be voted upon this month.  (Stefanik also recently introduced the Drones for First Responders Act, a separate bill which calls for banning the import of drones from China after 5 years.)

Understanding the Countering CCP Drones Act: A Legislative Overview

The Countering CCP Drones Act, introduced by Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, focuses on the inclusion of DJI Technologies’ equipment and services in a list of covered communications equipment that pose national security risks, in accordance with the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019. This move is part of a broader effort to secure U.S. communications networks.  Adding DJI to the list could prevent the company from accessing spectrum for the communications and control of their drones.

DJI Technologies, based in China, is the largest drone manufacturer in the world: their market share has been estimated at between 65% and 90% of the world’s fleet.  DJI has faced increasing pressure from the U.S. government over national security and data privacy concerns.  Increasingly, federal and state legislations are being introduced to limit the use of Chinese-manufactured drone technology, while encouraging the use of domestically produced equipment to support the U.S. manufacturing sector.

The Countering CCP Drones Act could be decided upon shortly.  The U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee has included the Countering CCP Drones Act in their draft of the FY 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), a significant defense policy bill. The Senate Committee will review the NDAA on June 12.

Why is Congress Considering the Act?

As geopolitical tensions mount around the world, the US has been working to lessen reliance on Chinese-made technology, in what some observers call the “Huawei effect.” Theis refers to digital communications giant Huawei, whose products were banned in the US in 2012 due to security concerns and was added to the US “entity” list in 2019.

Incidents unrelated to drones or DJI have led to current rising fears of Chinese government-backed hacking campaigns.  A bulletin produced by the FBI and CISA stated: “The use of Chinese-manufactured UAS in critical infrastructure operations risks exposing sensitive information to PRC authorities, jeopardizing U.S. national security, economic security, and public health and safety.”  The bulletin was issued as US authorities announced that they had dismantled “Volt Typhoon,” a China-backed hacking operation targeting critical infrastructure through infecting routers and IoT devices.

Chinese companies are required by China’s law to allow government access to their servers and systems upon request, leading to concerns that DJI could be compelled to share data with the CCP if geopolitical pressures warranted.  Some engineers fear that signing in and authenticating through the flight control systems and other platform components could provide an entry point for hackers to access US companies.

Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, who introduced the bill, says: “The advancement of my bipartisan bills, the Countering CCP Drones Act and the FACT Act is a win for America’s national security and a win for Americans whose data and critical infrastructure has been collected and monitored by our adversary Communist China. Congress must use every tool at our disposal to stop Communist China’s monopolistic control over the drone market and telecommunications infrastructure and build up America’s industrial capacity.”

Ranking Member of the Select Committee on the CCP, Raja Krishnamoorthi, commented: “Based on DJI’s ties to the CCP, the Administration has shown that DJI is a threat to our national security and has already placed the company on multiple government entity lists. Our legislation will further protect our communications equipment while strengthening American supply chains by ensuring foreign-manufactured technologies that pose serious security threats, such as DJI’s, cannot operate in American networks.”

DJI’s Response to the Act

DJI Technologies has defended their investments in security and data protection repeatedly, emphasizing the fact that users can choose to operate in secure mode and not share data.  DJI responded to the proposed legislation on their company blog.

“This legislation aims to block new DJI products from entering the U.S. market, and could also lead to the revocation of their existing FCC authorizations. If this passes, U.S. operators would no longer be able to access new DJI drones, and their existing drone fleets may even need to be grounded.

This act damages not just DJI, but also the broad ecosystem of operators, businesses and public safety agencies that rely on their technologies to conduct safe and efficient operations.

The lawmakers driving this legislation continue to reference inaccurate and unsubstantiated allegations regarding DJI’s operations, and have amplified xenophobic narratives in a quest to support local drone manufacturers and eliminate market competition.”

Impact on DJI and U.S. Operators

If enacted, the legislation could prevent new DJI products from entering the U.S. market and potentially revoke existing FCC authorizations for their equipment. This could impact U.S. operators who rely on DJI drones, possibly requiring them to ground their existing fleets and seek alternative technologies.  In a recent NY Times article, DroneAnalyst David Benowitz estimated that 58% of US drone operators are currently using DJI drones.  Additionally, many ecosystem players rely upon existing integration with DJI drones for their businesses.

The Drone Advocacy Alliance strongly opposes the bill, stating: “Put bluntly, this bill would have a massive negative impact on millions of Americans who use these [DJI] drones for public safety, commercially and recreationally. It would hamper public safety efforts, putting lives on the line, and drastically reduce the drone market, leading to rising costs and product shortages for all users.”

In recent Congressional testimony, Michael Robbins, President of the Association for Uncrewed Vehicles and Systems International, AUVSI, called for a balanced approach that would protect existing drone programs while funding development for US drone manufacturing:

AUVSI believes that we must move away from being reliant on Chinese companies and intellectual property for our drones, as the U.S. is doing with other critical technologies. A reasonable, common-sense transition is required to ensure that these critical lifesaving tools are available to public safety, while at the same time we move rapidly to diversify manufacturing and technology supply lines outside of China.

If passed, there is no doubt that the Countering CCP Drones Act will have a significant impact on the US drone industry.  As the bill moves through the legislative process, its implications will continue to be closely monitored.

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry.  Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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